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Print Troubleshooting - the basics: PaperCut’s 2023 guide

Printers are finicky things. They get a bad rap amongst the IT crowd, they seem to fail at just the wrong moment, and they’re even being targeted by cyber villains to get access to organization’s networks.

So what can we do when things go wrong, other than just turning it off and on again?

Here’s PaperCut’s print troubleshooting Top 3:

1. Preventative maintenance

As is often the case, a bit of planning and thought when setting things up can prevent headaches in the future. Here are some things to think about when setting up your printer(s):

Use a static IP address or reserve an address for your printer

Lots of networks allocate IP addresses automatically through DHCP - which works really well for just plugging something in and getting it working. The problem comes when something gets reset and the printer ends up getting allocated a different IP address. As luck would have it, this is normally just before the quarterly reports are due to be printed.

You can either configure a static IP address on the printer (check your printer manufacturer documentation to find out how), or if you’re feeling techy, you can set up a DHCP reservation either through a DHCP server or through your router.

Set up your power-saving settings

If you’re sharing a USB printer with others in the office, make sure that the machine that it’s plugged into doesn’t go to sleep. You can still have the power saving mode kick in when no one is in the office but make sure that you don’t let it go to sleep after a set number of minutes or hours - otherwise people trying to print won’t be able to!

2. Narrowing down the problem

When there’s a leak under the sink, the first thing to do is find out which component is leaking. The print process is equally as tricky, but once you know which bits to test, it all becomes a lot less daunting.

First, find out if you’re printing directly from your laptop (or phone!) to the printer, or if you’re printing from your device to some kind of print queue on a server, or maybe even to a printing ‘service’ of sorts (like PaperCut’s Mobility Print).

If you’re unsure, head into your “Printers” list on whatever device you’re using - for example, Settings > Printers & scanners (if you’re on Windows) or System Settings > Printers and Scanners (if you’re on macOS). Look for clues in the printer names that you’re trying to print to - for example, if you’re printing to:

  • the printer directly, the model number is often in the printer name, or it might have the address of the printer in the connection properties.
  • a print queue on a server or to some other service, you might see clues like the printer being called ‘Printer 1 on Springfield Server 3’. Or sometimes the printer might contain the service name - like [Mobility Print] for a PaperCut Mobility Print advertised printer.

Just to make things even more complex, if your organization uses Find-Me printing or Secure printing, you may actually be successfully printing the document - but the job might not be getting released at the printer for some reason. Maybe it’s sitting in a printer queue somewhere, waiting for you to authorize the release of the document at the printer, or maybe it’s just got lost!

We’ll try and tackle some of these scenarios below.

3. When pressing print isn’t as simple as it sounds

If you suspect there’s something going wrong when you press print (maybe there’s an error, or maybe it shows that the job is ‘printing’ and looks stuck in some way), then often the easiest way to troubleshoot is to set up a new test printer from scratch. Call it something imaginative like “Test Printer” and add the printer.

To set up the new printer, you’ll probably need to get instructions from your IT organization or your printer manufacturer to find out what they recommend for the specific printer in question. For example, on Windows, Microsoft has some handy tips on fixing printer issues - including setting up a new printer on your workstation.

3.1 Troubleshooting direct printing (printing directly to the printer)

If you’re printing directly to a printer, troubleshooting steps will often involve one or more of the following:

  • An old-fashioned walk! Head over to the printer and make sure it’s plugged in (to power and the network!), switched on, and hopefully, it’s not complaining about being out of toner or paper. Another clue - do you hear the printer ‘warming up’?
  • Check that your laptop or mobile device can ‘talk’ to the printer - for example, use ping (ping where the IP address is the IP address of your printer) to make sure the device is reachable. If you’re using a USB printer, it’s an easy step to make sure your USB cable is plugged into the printer on one end and plugged into the laptop/workstation on the other!
  • Check that you’re using the correct print driver for your printer. Head over to your printer manufacturer’s website and follow their instructions to install the printer from scratch.
  • Find out if other people can print to the printer - is there an issue with the network or the printer - or is it just an issue with your machine?
  • Use a test machine (or borrow one) to try adding the printer/printing from - to see if it’s an issue with one machine or with all machines. With especially complex print setups, we often recommend a ‘laptop test’ where you have a machine that is able to talk directly to the printer without lots of networking or other servers getting in between.
  • As before, you can also open your local printer queue to see if it’s giving you any clues as to where your print job is - often there are error messages, or it may tell you the status of your print job. Microsoft and Apple both describe how to view your print job or print queue on Windows and how to view your print queue on macOS.

Hopefully, if you’re printing directly to the printer, the calm-inducing sound of the printer warming up should be happening right now. If not, it’s worth checking through the steps above again to see where the job could be stuck.

3.2 Troubleshooting printing through a server queue

If you’re printing to a print server or some other service, it’s time to put the detective hat on and try and find where the print job has gone.

Often this means checking the print queue on the Print Server (if there’s a print server involved), so head into your “Printers” list on whatever device you’re using - for example, Settings > Printers & scanners (if you’re on Windows) or System Settings > Printers and Scanners (if you’re on macOS). Do you see the job ‘stuck’ in the print queue with a status of ‘Error’ or ‘Holding for authentication’ or some other ominous message? Alternatively, if you’re using print management software like PaperCut MF, from the admin interfaces check any ‘logs’ or ‘application logs’ for errors.

Our infamous choose-your-own-adventure KB looking at Missing or Disappearing Print Jobs starts with the task of finding out where the job might be going missing and then walks you through different things to check, depending on where your print job leak is. If you’re using Find-Me printing, there’s a further Troubleshooting missing print jobs with Find-Me printing article that looks at those elusive cases too.

At this point it’s worth logging into the printer interface (if it has one - most modern ones do). You can normally type the IP address of your printer into your browser, for example, and then access the printer settings. Most importantly (in this case) a job log showing successful and potentially rejected/errored print jobs - looking for clues.

Did you find it?

Hopefully some of the tips in this article have helped you narrow down where printing might be going wrong - and hopefully it’s pointed you in the right direction of how to fix whatever is awry with your print flow.

Printing is a deceivingly complex task - especially if it isn’t just plain old “laptop to printer”. If you’re having issues, and particularly if you’re needing more help when using PaperCut products, we highly recommend searching for your scenario on our PaperCut documentation search page.

There’s a good chance that someone has asked your question or seen your scenario before, and we’ve documented it!

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